Read this article to learn about the various defence mechanisms of the ego !
In the earlier stage, Freudian psychology was mostly concerned with the process of unconscious. So much so that the entire psychoanalytic theory of Freud was mostly based on the concept of repression and unconscious. It was believed that repression which is purely unconscious, is the only cause of psychopathology.
Even when Sigmund Freud published the book ‘Ego’, he emphasised on Superego which is the force of repression. Freud in-fact covered more pages on the discussion of superego.
Until September 1909, Freud did not turn his attention in a major way to the concept of ego as an element in the structure of personality.
Functions of the Ego:
Recently some eminent psychoanalysts like Alexzander and Franch of the Chicago institute of psychoanalysis turned to the functions and differences of the ego and its importance in normal human behaviour. The contributions of Chicago institute of psychoanalysis thus brought into light the role of ego in the development and integration of personality. The ego is said to be the integrating and coherent part of our personality which modifies, selects, controls and coordinates the tendencies of Id and Superego.
The ego is that part of the Id which has been modified by the direct influences of the external world acting through perceptual consciousness. The ego represents what we call reason and sanity in contrast to the id which contains passion and immediate gratification of objectionable desires.
As discussed earlier, the ego has to reconcile the demands of the id and superego and hence the ego has a difficult task to perform.
According to Freud, the function of the ego is to maintain the homeostatic, i.e., equilibrium which is constantly disturbed by our life processes and by various needs. These needs arise within the organism which are to be perceived and satisfied by the ego.
In short, the homeostatic function of the ego is preserved by the following four factors:
1. Internal perception of instinctive needs like sex, hunger, thirst etc.
2. External perception being aware of the existing conditions upon which the gratification of subjective needs depends.
3. The integrative function, by which the ego coordinates instinctive tendencies with one another and with the requirements of the superego and adapt them to the environmental conditions.
4. The executive function by which the ego controls voluntary behaviour.
To perform the homeostatic function, the ego has to struggle always against instinctive and dynamic tendencies which need immediate gratification. From various experiences, the ego realises that immediate gratification of instinctive desire may bring greater disaster though the id does not know this.
The ego gradually learns to control such id desires by delaying their fulfillment. Thus, while very young children want immediate gratification of their needs, as they grow up, they learn to wait.
The ego always tries to arrive at the best possible solution by harmonious understanding and compromise. It learns rational behaviour through experience. It is able to tolerate frustration and is strong enough to stand the difficulty.
The ego hence learns circumspective behaviour. Once the ego learns how to behave, the principle of economy of behaviour follows which is very essential for making the going of life smooth.
The total function of the ego is thus to reduce mental excitation to an optimum level either by securing gratification of instincts or by maintaining an effective balance between the conflicting motives.
The task of the ego is to compromise between the instinctual desires coming from the id and the ideals coming from the superego. But when the unconscious and antisocial desires of the id become very strong and powerful, the ego fails to maintain a harmony and these desires threaten the ego that they would come up by creating severe anxiety and conflict in the form of warning signals. In other words, the ego in relation to the id is a man on the horseback who has to check the superior strength of the horse.
Often the horse is obliged to go where the rider wants him to go. But sometimes, the horse becomes troublesome and the rider is overpowered by the force of the animal. When the id and the superego thus dominate the ego, harmony is broken and the ego applies various defence mechanisms to maintain a balance. To control the unconscious desires and resolve the conflict in an economical fashion, the ego adopts certain defensive measures by the use of various defence mechanisms.
Any threat to the integration of the personality is therefore faced by the ego through the application of various defences which protect the ego from anxiety and final disintegration. The use of ego defences is a common phenomenon used normally by everyone. According to Blum (1969) “the ego, typically responds to threat in either of two ways, (/) blocking the inner force from expression in conscious behaviour, (if) distorting it to such an extent that the initial impetus is largely blunted”.
What is an ego defence?
The mechanism which the ego uses to check the satisfaction of unacceptable sexual and aggressive urges are referred to as defences. When the ego attempts to alleviate anxiety by using methods that deny, falsify and distort reality and that impede the development of personality, it is said to have used some defence mechanisms.
The defence mechanisms function in the unconscious level mostly. But once they become conscious, they do not serve the defensive purposes so well. Thus, after the warning signal in the form of anxiety and conflict is perceived unconsciously, the defence mechanisms operate at a primary level.
By and large, the defence mechanisms are various unconscious and conscious processes whereby the inner conflict situation is eliminated or reduced in its severity. As Miller (1957) has pointed out, organisms that survive tend to employ, the least expensive defences against stress first and increasingly more expensive j ones later. If the least expensive defence is not able to reduce anxiety, the more expensive ones are utilised.
For example, in the beginning he may adopt withdrawal or undoing or rationalisation. If not successful, he may use repression or projection. Further under severe stress the ego defences used by the individual may increase.
According to Anna Freud (1937) even anxiety is reduced through defensive fantasies of children.
Economic approach to defence mechanisms:
The economic approach to mental activities is done by using various defence mechanisms. Though these defence mechanisms are more often than not found in neurotics and psychotics, the ego’s typical defence mechanisms are employed occasionally by normal people.
The defence mechanisms are classified into successful and unsuccessful defence mechanisms. However, most of the defence mechanisms used by the ego are unsuccessful in nature. They are not able to press back the various id desires for a long time.
These are known as the pathological or diseased defences. Most of the defence mechanisms operate unconsciously although they do not belong to the system of unconscious. They in fact belong to the ego boundaries.
According to Brown (1940), “Repression is the major mechanism for the solution of conscious conflict. Conversion, regression, sublimation, reaction formation and rationalisation are the major mechanisms for the solution of unconscious conflict.”
A recent study by Bibring (1961) indicates that the defensive organisation of the ego constitutes a continuum and that any attempt to sort and separate defence mechanisms is bound to be arbitrary. However, this study gives 24 basic first order defences and 15 complex or second order defences.
However some of the major mechanisms used by neurotics and psychotic patients will be discussed here:
Successful defence mechanisms of the ego:
The successful defence mechanisms help the ego to channelize many of the id desires in proper direction.
Sublimation is considered as the most complete and successful of all defence mechanisms. According to some, it is not a defence, but the full use of a tamed and channelled drive. The forces of libido are diverted to social activity when finds them un-satiable.
Sublimation in general is the transformation of sexual and aggressive urges into creative work in socially acceptable directions. Thus, the main purpose of sublimation is to provide a positive outlet of frustrated infantile sexual components on the condition that the original aims of impulses are permanently modified.
In other words, the resolution, of certain frustrations related to the basic urges through the substitution of a socially acceptable goal is the main purpose of sublimation. Sublimation therefore consists of expressing the id tendencies of sex and aggression, i.e., the sexual and aggressive urges of the id in socially approved and culturally acceptable manner for the benefit of the society, by and large.
Sexual desires are usually sublimated in art, literature, and painting, dancing and other fine arts. Aggressive desires are sublimated in sports, adventure, satire and caricature. Sublimated sexual energy contributes to friendliness among individuals and nations which is essential for creativity, peace and happiness for the society. Similarly, sublimated aggressive energy is equally necessary for normal initiative, independence, competition and cooperation, adventurous work and courageous scientific investigation.
Great sportsmen, scientists and doctors channelize their aggressive desires into socially acceptable ways. Such behaviours in the eye of the society are not only acceptable, but have also a great deal of moderately constructive value.
Those who sublimate their aggressive and sexual urges for the benefit of the society would otherwise have been social nuisances. Sublimation does not harm to the ego or to the society. Thus, the geniuses in this way can be motivated to great artistic and social achievements. Brown (1940) opines that according to the psychoanalysts all forms of creative intellectual things represent sublimation of the underlying basic urges.
Sublimation may therefore be regarded as the redirection of basic urges to the socially acceptable channels whereby the individual neither develops physiological or psychological systems. Not only creative but also constructive works are done by sublimation. The unconscious conflict is therefore resolved by flight to creative work.
Unsuccessful defence mechanisms of the ego:
As the very term indicates, rationalization consists in adding good reasons for actions, unaccepted drives and needs which are not accepted by the society. The invention of unconsciously acceptable motives by the ego to cover up those unconscious motives which it cannot accept refers to rationalisation.
According to Cameron (1969), “rationalization, is also more or less intellectualistic. It consists of the justification of otherwise unacceptable ego alien thought, feeling or action, through the misuse or distortion of face and through employing a pseudo logic.”
In other words, it refers to the substitution of a socially approved motive for a socially disapproved one. It has therefore been viewed that man does not act for reasons but reasons for acts. When the individual allows some of his id desires to be satisfied and acts in a particular manner to defend himself at the same time, he is said to have rationalised.
In short, by rationalisation one tries to justify his behaviour. Rationalisation is a common technique in day to day life where people explain away their own defects, failures and misdeeds as well as of those persons whom they love and admire, for example, if we do not succeed in a work, we want to give some reasons to support it.
So rationalisation is a justification to complete irrational desires coming from the id. A person who gives a lot of donation to charity may consider himself to be a very generous, and philanthropic person doing this out of kindness of his heart. But in fact in this case he is really motivated by a desire to show off or by guilt conscience.
According to Page (1976), “when we do not get what we desire, we may avoid the bitterness by persuading ourselves that the object is not worth having or worth seeing. A person who fails in an interview tries to save his prestige by announcing that he did not really want the job. Similarly, a girl who wants to join college, but whose parents are not in favour of college education is severely frustrated. She however tries to face the frustration by making reasons that college education is only a farse where time and money is wasted.
Rationalisation functions both in the conscious and unconscious level. A person goes to the station everyday at 5.30 P.M. When asked the reason the individual is not able to give some possible explanation as the cause lies in his unconscious state. So he tries to justify his action by giving some logical explanation which can be appropriate to the situation.
Similarly, those who wash their hands several times before going to have their dinner justify their action by saying that washing hands is good for health.” Many people cannot tolerate the closing of windows in the winter though they don’t know the why of it. Thus, in such cases, the persons concerned do not know the real cause of their action as the conflict lies in the unconscious level and can only be revealed by a psychoanalyst. These are examples of rationalisation taking place in the unconscious level.
Rationalisation also lakes place in the conscious level. A student who fails in the examination due to his own insincerity and defects, blames the examiner, is a case of rationalisation in the conscious level.
Similarly a person who cannot sing or does not have a sweet voice, may try to save face in the society by complaining of a bad throat. It has been found that in many cases rationalisation acts as a chief mechanism for resolving unconscious conflict.
Repression is a topographic dynamic concept. It is a major defence which checks inner forces. It refers to purposeful forgetting of wishes, urges and impulses associated with antisocial, objectionable, aggressive and sexual demands.
A conflict among the Id, Ego and Superego which produces anxiety may be prevented from registering itself in consciousness by being opposed by an anti-cachexia is called repression. According to Wolman (1979) repression is a vehement effort that has been exercised to prevent the mental process in question from penetrating into the conscious and as a result it has remained unconscious.
Repression is said to be the corner stone of psychoanalysis as all the mental abnormalities are caused due to repression. Repression is an unconscious process and it takes place automatically. Maximum repression occurs in the childhood as the ego is not strong enough during the childhood.
When the sexual and aggressive tendencies try to be gratified the superego checks it which causes anxiety in the ego and puts back to the unconscious automatically. Though the irrational desires are pushed back to the unconscious, they do not die, they remain dynamic just like the balloon on water.
Repression is usually classified into two types — (a) Primal repression, (b) Repression proper.
(a) Primal repression:
It refers to those wishes which have never been conscious. Thus primary repression tries to keep out of awareness materials that never left the unconsciousness. In other words, primal repression prevents an instinctual object choice from coming to consciousness which has never been conscious.
In fact, primal repressions are innately determined blockings which are mainly responsible for keeping a vast area of the contents of id permanently unconscious. It is viewed that the primal repressions are built into the person as a result of racial experience with painful situations. For example, the taboo against incest is said to be based upon a strong desire for sexual relations with one’s parents, i.e., the father or the mother. The expression of this desire is punished by the parents.
When this occurs over and over again during the racial history of mankind, the repression of the incestuous desire is built into man and becomes primal repression. This suggests that each new generation does not have to learn to repress itself if it is interacted. Therefore, a strong taboo signifies a strong desire for the same which has incidentally been repressed.
(b) Repression proper:
The second category of repression is called repression proper where the ideas were once conscious, but have been pushed back by the ego to the unconscious level. In this type of repression which contain frustrated primitive and tabooed desires cause anxiety for the ego, the ego is threatened with pain and sends back these desires from the conscious level to the dark chamber of unconscious.
Repression proper forces a dangerous barrier against any form of motor discharge. Repression also operates upon memories that are associated with traumatic experience. In normal cases, the effects of repression can be observed only in studying dreams, lapses of memories and a number of minor functional disturbances. Repression is necessary for normal personality development and used to some extent by everyone; but there are people who depend upon it mainly for adjusting to threats.
These people are said to be repressed. Their contact with the world is limited and they are of the withdrawing; restrained and rigid type who speak very less. They waste much of their energies on repression and very little energy is left after interaction with environment.
Excessive use of repression also interferes with the normal functioning of the personality. As viewed by Blum (1969), “Repression is considered as an outgrowth of the more primitive denial mechanism. It does not operate extensively until fairly late in childhood, since the defence depends upon a clear differentiation of the ego from the id. By the time of resolution of the oedipus complex, however, ego boundaries are well established and massive repression of earlier conflicts are said to be characteristic.”
It is also viewed by Blum that the wide spread forgetting during preoedipal stage and in the latency period is not due to normal causes of forgetting, but because of repression.
However, modern psychologists do not consider repression as a defence mechanism because the various defences are used to keep repression repressed. Thus, Wolman comments, “According to Freud all mental processes are processes in which some energy is accumulated, stored, blocked and discharged. Some forces whether conscious or unconscious prevent the discharge of the energy. These repressing forces called defence mechanisms resist always the discharge of repressed energy.
Having reached a certain stage a person may retreat to an earlier level because of fear. This is called regression. Regression literally means going back. It constitutes flight from controlled and realistic thinking. Regression as a defence mechanism involves the re-adaptation of responses characteristic of an earlier phase of development. It simply means childhood reaction. Due to severe frustration, when the ego is punished by anxiety and stress, the individual takes the help of less mature, less realistic, more childish behaviour, by flight to childhood. Thus, frustration may cause regression.
For example, a person who fails in the examination tries to face frustration by crying like a child. Similarly, committing suicide due to failure in examinations or love is a sign of regressive behaviour. Wolman (1979) in this connection opines that the fact that some portion of the libido became fixated increases the danger that in a later stage when facing obstacles the libido may regress to those fixations.
Regressive behaviour is also known as unintelligent type of behaviour which is maladaptive in character. The key is lost. Two boys want to open the door. One tries to open it by breaking the lock, the other tries to open it by the help of an instrument.
The behaviour of the first boy is regressive while the second boy shows constructive behaviour. Thus, when the ego finds that most of his id desires are not satisfied, the ego tries to satisfy some of these desires by flight to childhood. Instead of adjusting with the present circumstances, he goes back to more primitive form of maladaptive behaviour.
The ego makes an attempt to withdraw from the anxiety provoking situation by showing habits associated with the period which gave him security feeling. Thumb sucking and bed wetting are common examples of regression.
Baby talk of adults is also a kind of regressive behaviour. A small child of 4-5 years age may respond in a very infantile manner when the next child in the family is born. This he does to avoid anxiety of separation from the mother by drawing the attention of the parents through his infantile behaviour.
In regression the individual goes back and returns to that stage of psychosexual development where he is fixated. That is why regression is said to be the worst type of defence mechanism. When a person is frustrated in love or in social life, if he is fixated in the oral sucking period, he may get satisfaction by sucking his thumb or by putting something inside his mouth and suck it.
Those who are fixated in the oral biting period may like to take chewing gum, or pan. People fixated in the oral biting stage also like to smoke. Similarly, if a person is fixated in the phallic stage, any frustration or disappointment in the adult life may lead to sexual abnormality or sexual attachment towards parents of the opposite sex.
In the same way if a child was getting all his desires fulfilled by crying only, he would take recourse to the same action during adulthood. Regression as a pathological defence is found almost in all forms of psychopathology. If is mostly found in psychopathic patients. Catatonic mental patient withdraws from life by curling up and remaining mute in a fetal posture.
A poorly organised ego is more susceptible to regression.
Regression may be divided into two parts:
(1) Ego Regression,
(2) Libido Regression.
Libido regression refers to the going back to any stage of Psychosexual development. But libido regression is rarely possible without the regression of the ego. An adult having libido regression may resolve an unconscious conflict by having love relations with others like a child. Showing childish behaviour during the adulthood is also a sign of libido regression.
According to Blum (1969), regression and fixation are said to be complimentary. The stronger a fixation, the more easily will the regression take place under stressful circumstances. Wolman (1979) therefore opines “The danger of regression under stress depends upon the strength of fixation and on the amount and duration of stress to which one is exposed.” He further views that the events and frustrations experienced by the individual are a powerful factor in the causation of regression and neuroses.
Regression is a sign of maladjusted personality. It is considered as the worst type of defence mechanism as instead of doing anything constructive and progressive, the individual demonstrates childish behaviour.
However, it is also a fact that every healthy, well adjusted person makes regression from time to time in order to reduce anxiety by being engaged in childish activities. Dreaming is a fine example of regressive activity as it involves the security of pleasure by means of magical wish fulfilling.
Thus, by flight to childhood, conflict is resolved in an economic fashion.
According to Coleman (1981) by projection one transfers the blame of his own shortcomings, mistakes and misdeeds to others and attributes to others his own unacceptable thoughts. In other words, it is blaming someone for his own mistakes and shortcomings.
Projection literally means “throwing out” and it is commonly used by everyone. The first reaction of the baby is either to swallow or to vomit. When the ego is threatened by the id desires through anxiety, it tries to avoid the anxiety by not wanting to admit that it has these id desires. Instead it blames somebody else for this.
Thus, when the person is made to feel anxious by the pressure upon the ego from the id and the superego, he tries to relieve his anxiety by attributing its causation to the external world. Instead of saying “I hate him” thus he says,” he hates me.” This type of ego defence against neurotic and moral anxiety is called projection.
What the ego actually tries to do when he employs projection? The ego transforms neurotic or moral anxiety into objective anxiety. A person who is afraid of his own aggressive and sexual impulses obtains some relief from his anxiety attributing aggressiveness and sexuality to other people.
Projection takes place when the ego can no longer repress on alien tendency and therefore cannot deny its existence. Here the ego attributes to the environment objects and characters of his own personality.
Thus, when the ego dislikes his own id and super ego desires, it throws the blame on somebody else. For instance, when one looses interest in somebody, he may try to overcome the anxiety by saying “he is losing interest in me.”
When certain antisocial desires are wanted to be satisfied, the ego strongly denies such antisocial desires by throwing the blame upon somebody else. A person who complains that others are looking at him/her may actually have the desire to attract others. Similarly, many people who strongly denounce anti-corruption may be engaged in all sorts of corruption.
Thus, the ego attributes certain unacceptable characters of his personality upon other persons of the environment. Projection is a tendency found in every individual to attribute one’s own faults and defects upon others.
Projection serves the purpose of changing an internal danger from the td or the superego which is difficult for the ego to deal with. A person has usually more opportunity to learn how to cope with objective fears than he has to acquire skill in mastering neurotic and moral anxiety.
Projection is a very prevalent defence mechanism because from a very early age one is encouraged to look for the causes of one’s behaviour in the external world and is discouraged from examining and analysing his own motives.
Moreover, a person learns that he can avoid punishment and self blame by inventing plausible excuses for his misdeeds. Another type of projection consists of sharing one’s feelings and thoughts with the world. One feels happy and thinks that other people are also happy and one feels miserable and thinks that other people are also miserable.
Closer analysis of such projection indicates that when other people are not happy, one’s own happiness is endangered, because it may make one feel guilty to be happy when others are unhappy. In order to remove threat one attributes happiness to others as well.
If a person can convince himself that most people are dishonest, it becomes easier for him to be dishonest without feeling guilty. A student who habitually cheats during examinations, often excuses himself on the ground that nearly everyone else cheats too.
Projection works both in the conscious and unconscious level. It is used by normal people to reduce their tensions and hostility, but is more frequently found in paranoid phobias. Projection appears most clearly in acute paranoid psychoses and in some paranoid schizophrenic psychoses. At times, such a patient hears the hallucinated voice of his own unconscious superego accusing him of having impulses which he denies are his own. Projection protects the normal people from the result of their own aggression by attributing to others.
In extreme form it becomes a basic mechanism of paranoid psychoses. However, projection is extensively used in paranoid patient who sometimes maintains that his neighbour is trying to kill him though he actually wanted to kill the neighbour. The paranoid patients project their wishes in such a systematic way that it becomes quite difficult to detect them.
The paranoid suffers from latent unconscious homosexual desires which lead to the beliefs that others are continually making advances towards him: various social prejudices and scape goating can be often attributed to this defence mechanism as racial and cultural prejudices provide a convenient outlet for the attribution of objectionable sexual and aggressive thoughts to others.
According to Coleman (1981) “Projections probably develop from our own early realization that putting the blame on others for our own failures, unethical thoughts and misdeeds help us to avoid social approval and punishment”
In contrast to projection introjection is derived from the early infantile wish to retain with the self those pleasure experiences such as the longing to control over mother’s nipple and to acquire certain qualities of the father.
Introjection is the symbolic incorporation of an external object as part of oneself. In other words, it refers to swallowing in. In introjection the individual likes to grasp certain qualities of a person whom he likes and tries to behave like him. Here he considers the various qualities of a person as his own qualities.
According to Cameron (1969), “The use of introjection as a defence in adulthood is usually a sign of regression. It occurs in normal mourning as an attempt to retain the lost loved one while the work of mourning progresses.”
At times it is observed that eldest children talk just like their mother, sit, walk and behave like her. Superego is therefore merely an introjection of parents. During the period of superego formation parental morals, prohibitions and ideals become the object of introjection. It is generally found that the ego introjects the parental attitudes, ideals and functions. Here the ego tries to bring inside certain qualities which it lacks and thereby satisfies the id and superego desires.
In mental diseases like Manic depressive psychoses, Hypocondria and conversion hysteria, introjection is found. Some insane people think they have sallowed their enemies by committing suicide. Introjection occurs most clearly in psychotic depressions where the patient may perceive and represent the characteristics of a loved person as they were his own. Sometimes the depressed person accuses himself for the shortcomings of those persons towards whom he has got ambivalent attitude.
When the person tries to transform his own ego or self after another person whom he likes, it becomes a case of identification. Superiors are imitated by inferiors. A young student may identify himself with a bachelor professor whose qualities he may like.
In identification, the individual wants to be like the object or person while in introjection he considers the object as a part of himself. Identification is a mechanism very often used by normal people. When we visit a picture we identify with the hero or the heroine and enjoy their emotion. The ego by identification satisfies the desire to be like some other person.
Bibring et al. (1961) distinguish four kinds of identification used defensively. They are the following:
1. Identification with a loved object:
This decreases separation anxiety and reduces tensions arising out of hostility if the loved one is ambivalently hated.
2. Identification with a lost object:
This refers to introjection. A person accepts the character of someone or something he has lost in order to reduce the pain arising out of this tragedy.
3. Identification with the aggressor:
Anxiety is avoided through becoming like a feared aggressive person or thing. The aggression then perceived and represented as though it aroused from oneself and were under one’s own control. Anna Freud has also given impressive examples from her study of children.
4. Identification of guilt:
It is also similar to introjection. It is a self punishing identification which arises from hostile aggression felt towards an ambivalently loved person.
Compulsive reaction patients show this type of identification where the patient punishes himself.
It implies the discharge of an unconscious impulse by shifting from one original object to a substitute. Thus, displacement consists of discharging impulses by shifting from one object to another. Sexual and aggressive impulses which could not be satisfied and therefore blocked are shifted to other avenues. Displacement is very often found in dreams of normal adults and it is found in everyone’s life.
Turning towards the self is another form of displacement not frequently used where aggressive impulses towards others are redirected to the self leading to depression and feelings of worthlessness.
Displacement as an ego defence is commonly used to avoid anxiety. In normal personality displacement is found when the husband shifts his anger towards his wife at the slightest provocation. When the wife has a quarrel with the husband, she may shift her tantrum on the small child over a trivial matter.
A small child, who is not able to express her anger towards her mother due to social restriction, may do so by breaking her doll into pieces. Displacement is found in phobic patients where primary anxiety because of sexual and aggressive urges is displaced to an irrational fear threatening the patient all the time. Besides, the conversions and obsessive compulsive patients also use displacement as a defence mechanism.
In case of a paranoid patient aggressive and sexual impulse are displaced on the alleged persecutors in the form of projection. Here is an example of the complex interaction of the different defences which justifies the fact that defence mechanisms cannot be segregated from one another and they remain in a continuum.
Turning against the self as a special form of displacement is found, among the phobics and is an unconscious defence mechanism. Turning against the self is a common feature of psychotic depression when the patient accuses himself for the crime of a loved or hated person. A doctor may displace his aggressive energy by operating a patient. A lawyer may obtain a great deal of oral satisfaction by arguing a case or a lecturer may get oral pleasure by giving lectures.
Isolation refers to the process by which the unpleasant memories are deprived of their emotional connections. According to Blum (1969), isolation is an exaggeration of logical thinking, which consists of the continued elimination of emotional associations in the interest of objectivity.
Cameron (1969) holds that it is a defence mechanism by which different attitudes are maintained under different circumstances, by the same man when he is at work and when he is at home. The pathological use of isolation may involve repression of the emotional components of perceptions of thoughts and actions so that they seem colourless and cannot arouse a person’s anxiety. This is usually found in the obsessive compulsive character disorders and neuroses.
Anna Freud (1961) described a special form of isolation called ego splitting which she pointed out while explaining fetishism. It is found among the neurotics and psychotics.
Ritual and Undoing:
The ritualistic forms of behaviour may have constructive as well as defensive uses. As pointed out by Cameron (1969) ritual is the basis of exact repetition and therefore of scientific and technological development Ritual is so important a part of normal human life in all societies that it would be absurd to consider it always a defence against anxiety. Similar is the case with undoing.
However, ritual and ritualistic undoing’s are used as defences when they enable a person to solve a conflict or when they prevent the emergence of a primary anxiety or control it after it arises.”
Like repression denial plays a defensive role and it operates in the conscious and subconscious level while repression operates in the unconscious level. When the various psychological experiences are denied by the individual in question, by intentionally ignoring its existence, it is known as denial.
According to Cameron (1969) denial is considered as a more primitive defence than repression. Denial is used in small children and in psychotic regression. Denial is said to be a common source of reassurance against anxiety, helplessness and a sense of inadequacy. Jacobsen (1957) holds that while fantasy has been most often reported in the study of children, it is probable that it is also widely used in anxious, unhappy and insecure adults.
The mechanism by which one instinct is hidden from awareness by its opposite is called reaction formation. Development of a behaviour opposite to the unconscious desires of the id is known as reaction formation. Reaction formation plays a major role in the symptom formation of obsessional neuroses.
In the words of Brown (1940), “unconscious conflict may therefore be resolved by behavioural denial of it”. A phobia is an example of reaction formation. The person wants what he fears. He is not afraid of the object, but has wish for the object. The reactive fear prevents the dreaded wish from being fulfilled.
The superego may be called as a system of reaction formation which has been developed in order to protect the ego from the id and from the external world. High ideals, virtues and goodness may be reaction formation against primitive object cathexes rather than realistic values. ,
Reaction formations are employed against both internal and external threats. Whenever there is exaggerated and rigid conformity to any set of rules, it is a case of reaction formation. It is viewed that reaction formations are irrational adjustment to anxiety. They distort reality and make personality rigid and inflexible.
According to Coleman (1981) Reaction formation, like repression has adjective value in helping us to maintain socially approved behaviour and to avoid facing unacceptable desires with the consequent self devaluation that would be involved. But because this mechanism is too self deceptive, it results in exaggerated and rigid fears or beliefs which may complicate the individual’s adjustive reactions and may lead to excessive harshness and severity in dealings with the lapses of others.
Fixation is also a common defence against anxiety. The fixated person is usually afraid to proceed in a new venture because of the dangers and hardships he anticipated lying ahead. Practically everyone feels a little anxious when he undertakes a new venture of any kind.
The anxiety that one experiences for leaving the old and familiar is called separation anxiety. When separation anxiety becomes too much for the ego to tolerate, the person wants to continue with the old way of life rather than entering the new.
The fixated person chiefly avoids insecurity and fear of punishment and a fear of failure is the chief force proceeding to the next stage. Moreover, he is not also sure that the new object choice will compensate for loss of parental love. So the ego tries to fixate the old habits and experiences.
Some also fixate upon a particular defence mechanism around which their whole personality revolves. The most important disadvantage of fixation is that it prevents one from realizing its fullest psychological potentialities.
Besides the above defence mechanisms, Coleman (1981) has emphasized the following defence mechanisms.
Denial of Reality:
It is otherwise known as escapism. It is the simplest of all defence mechanisms. By refusing to acknowledge certain unacceptable realities, we ignore them and refuse to acknowledge them.
According to Coleman (1981) the tendency to avoid or deny unpleasant realities is related to the concept of perceptual defence. “Not only do we become increasingly defensive to stimulate that appear useful in adaptation or enhance of self, but we tend to avoid those aspects of a situation which are traumatic or self devaluating or contradictory to our assumptions.”
That is why we avoid unpleasant ideas, memories and experiences, discussions and criticisms. In this way we refuse to face many of our everyday problems.
When many of the desires are frustrated the individual develops various fantasies and tries to gratify various frustrated needs by imagination. When fantasy is used for constructive purposes, such as solving an immediate problem it is called productive fantasy. On the other hand, non-productive fantasy does not solve any immediate problem but it only fulfills certain wishes in the mental level.
Though unproductive fantasy helps to escape temporarily from unpleasant realities, purely wish fulfilling fantasies interfere normal personality adjustment.
By and large, the various defence mechanisms of the ego resolve conscious or more unconscious conflicts when ego is not able to maintain a balance between the forees of the id and the superego. When the position of the ego is thus threatened, the various defence mechanisms function in an economic fashion to resolve conflict, to save time and energy without which the person would not have been able to maintain a balanced personality. However, excessive application of the defensive reaction is dangerous for the ego.